I was also reminded of another gift wish from my childhood. Did I say ‘wish’? No, change that to ‘craving’ or perhaps ‘mania.’ I don’t remember who made it or what is was called exactly. It was a space ship control panel, with a steering wheel and myriad other controls. The TV ads made it look like a virtual reality experience, except that the term ‘virtual reality’ hadn’t yet been coined, and microchips hadn’t yet been invented. This didn’t stop the commercial makers from surrounding the game and its user with all sorts of whooshing lights and sounds, seeming to transport him into an incredible multi-media experience.
I was blown away by this ad. This was The Best Toy Ever! I watched the ad in slack-jawed awe whenever it aired, imagining that I was the boy in the driver’s seat. When I expressed my enthusiasm for owning this item to my parents, my metaphoric space ship slammed against an equally metaphoric but no less deadly force field. It was out of the question – far too expensive, they told me point-blank. It probably cost about $20, but with 8 children squalling about the house, that was far too much for a single toy. My yearning, then, had to be moved into a far corner of my consciousness, lest it drive me mad.
It was a year or two later. The space ship control panel was no longer being advertised on TV and I, like any impressionable growing child, had moved on to new fascinations. I was at the home of a neighborhood friend. In his room, in a corner with various other toys, was this very object! The very one! I froze for a moment as all that forgotten, buried yearning came flooding back. Within a few moments, several things became apparent to me. First, it was smaller than it looked on TV. Second, it was made mostly out of plastic. Third, there was no electrical hum emanating from it; no engines; no computers. For a fleeting moment, I considered the possibility that my friend had simply broken his copy and that was why it sat there so silently and so ignored. Common sense and basic powers of observation quickly overwhelmed that thought, though. I examined the toy carefully. It was well made, to be sure, but there was nothing, nothing to it that I hadn’t seen on other toys. It had a variety of noise-makers and light panels and brightly colored pieces of plastic, but it was plain that this was just a toy, like other toys, not a thing unto itself.
I think I grew up a little that day. I learned several important lessons: 1) TV ads don’t merely mislead; they lie. 2) Some grown-ups will publicly lie to children if it can make money for them, and nobody will stop them. 3) Just because something looks like magic doesn’t mean it IS magic. I know that third item is a bit of a stretch based on the story I’ve just told, but it really was one of my take-aways from the whole experience.
These lessons have, of course, been reiterated countless times in the succeeding years, but I think this was one of the starting points. A wise man once wrote that one reaches a point during maturation when “…you learn that everything you’ve been taught is a lie.” While that statement may seem harsh on the surface, it is meant to illustrate a larger point that we have to reach a point where we reject what we’ve been taught as impressionable children, after which we decide for ourselves which items to re-accept and which ones are merely instructive examples of what not to believe.